VR’s Po­ten­tial for Magic Fills this Void

The Economic Times - - Disruption: Startups & Tech -

Utah: In an or­di­nary of­fice com­plex here, past stacked car­tons of Moun­tain Dew and a throng of hoodie-wear­ing em­ploy­ees, sits a pro­to­type for an at­trac­tion that Hol­ly­wood thinks will be­come the next en­ter­tain­ment craze — an of­fer­ing that could mint money for its de­vel­op­ers, throw a life­line to strug­gling shop­ping malls and, at long last, jump-start sales of vir­tual re­al­ity gear.

“I have seen a lot of great VR ex­pe­ri­ences, and noth­ing comes close to what the Void is do­ing,” said Cliff Plumer, VR startup Void’s CEO. “If any­thing is go­ing to in­spire mass con­sumer adop­tion of vir­tual re­al­ity, this is it.” The Void’s in­ven­tion looks like noth­ing spe­cial. The in­te­rior is di­vided into rudi­men­tary, in­ter­con­nected rooms. There is no ceil­ing, un­less you count a lat­tice­work of ca­bles and sen­sors. But ev­eryt- hing changes when you put on a spe­cial vir­tual re­al­ity head­set, pick up a rudi­men­tary plas­tic gun, slip into a snug vest and strap on small back­pack, which has a light­weight com­puter in­side: You and your friends in­stantly be­come Ghost­busters. The first room is now a fur­ni­ture-filled New York apart­ment crowded with pink poltergeists. That plas­tic weapon is now a func­tion­ing pro­ton gun, just like in the films, and you can use it to zap ap­pari­tions (and any­thing else in view). As the 10-minu- te ad­ven­ture con­tin­ues, your group tracks ghosts through the apart­ment tower — in a fast­mov­ing el­e­va­tor, out­side on a rick­ety win­dow-wash­ing plat­form — as some ghouls float through you, ar­riv­ing with a whoosh of air in your face and a vi­bra­tion of that vest. Would peo­ple, es­pe­cially young peo­ple, pay $20 a head to ex­pe­ri­ence this kind of “hy­per­re­al­ity”? The Void, which has re­fined the con­cept of map­ping a vir­tual world over a phys­i­cal set, be­lieves they will. So far, the Void has been funded by one of its three founders, Ken Bretschnei­der, who has in­vested mil­lions. The Void is now work­ing with the Raine Group to raise ex­pan­sion fund­ing. Cir­cling, at the same time, have been mall own­ers, mul­ti­plex chains and theme park op­er­a­tors.

“All of a sud­den, we have some of the most in­flu­en­tial peo­ple on the planet ask­ing for tours,” said James Jensen, an­other Void founder. (The third founder is the chief cre­ative of­fi­cer, Cur­tis Hick­man.) Stephen B Burke, CEO of NBCUniver­sal, has been through a Void pro­to­type. So has Robert A Iger, CEO of the Walt Dis­ney Com­pany. Last year, Dis­ney even had a Void rig brought to a board meet­ing so its board of di­rec­tors could go for a test spin. Var­i­ous Hol­ly­wood film­mak­ers have tried it them­selves, in­clud­ing Steven Spiel­berg. The Void’s po­ten­tial may have as much to do with the so­lu­tions it of­fers to other busi­nesses as it does with en­ter­tain­ment.

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